Going global doesn't mean that you have to forsake an appealing culture, as ever-expanding NRF shows...
“IT'S been a big year,” says US managing partner Daryl Lansdale, commenting on the events that have marked Norton Rose Fulbright's 2017. First came its merger with Vancouver's Bull Housser in January, followed by its headline-generating combination with New York-headquartered Chadbourne & Parke in June, “which expanded the New York and DC offices significantly,” Lansdale tells us. “We’re now one of the top 25 firms in New York City by number of lawyers – 300 in total, which we’re very proud of. Our US headcount has now increased to 1,000 lawyers, while we're at 4,000 globally.” But this combination wasn't just about numbers: synergies in areas like project finance, bankruptcy and white-collar investigations made the union particularly attractive.
“We remain the largest firm in the state of Texas.”
NRF's appetite for mergers wasn't quite sated though: at the time of our call with Lansdale in late 2017, NRF was in the process of finalizing its tie-up with Australia's Henry Davis York. These mergers are just the latest in a long line of savvy additions that have propelled NRF's rapid ascent in recent years: in 2010, London-based Norton Rose kickstarted its strategy to become a major global contender, and since then has drawn firms from Canada, Australia, South Africa and, of course, the US into its fold. The firm's global revenue puts it among the top ten, and its Chambers Global rankings say this is one of the world's most capable internationally.
The 'Fulbright' part of the equation arrived in the form of 2013's merger with Fulbright & Jaworski, which was especially known in Texas for its strengths in litigation. “We remain the largest firm in the state of Texas, which continues to be a very important jurisdiction for the firm,” Lansdale points out. Most of the firm's Chambers USA rankings honor its prowess in the Lone Star State, with top marks going to its antitrust, bankruptcy/restructuring and healthcare expertise. On a nationwide basis, NRF is rated highly for its projects know-how, especially in the renewable energy and liquefied natural gas spaces. The firm also picks up nods for its transportation, energy, international arbitration and tax practices.
Strategy & Future
“Our lawyers will continue to sell themselves not only as experts in law but in our clients’ specific industries,” says Lansdale. NRF's focus is on six key industries: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology; and life sciences and healthcare. On the domestic front, juniors relayed that “traditionally we’ve been known as a Texas powerhouse, but we’re very committed to growing our coastal presences in the US.”
The second and third-year juniors on our list were allocated to a vast range of practices: 25 teams in total. The Chadbourne merger added considerable clout to the firm’s projects and commercial litigation practices, which now join the corporate, M&A and securities group as the three most populated teams – together they account for just over 40% of the juniors in our sample. The method of work assignment depends on the team. In larger ones, like projects, “there's a partner who's responsible for making sure people are busy, but we still follow quite a free-market approach – the onus is really on me to find deals.” In the smaller groups, some juniors got the bulk of their work from senior associates, while others were assigned to a “main partner” right off the bat, but still had freedom to pick up matters from others.
NRF's projects team housed the largest cohort of juniors. Sources here told us that the group “predominantly represents lenders and sponsors in relation to secured transactions that require creative thinking.” Projects involving renewable energy sources like wind and solar power frequently crop up, and a few of our interviewees had been able to work on those tied to liquefied natural gas. “They get you involved in a good variety of deals,” said one junior here, who went on to explain that their role involved “a mix of drafting and process management – you definitely need to keep organized! You're making sure that all the documents have been signed, that the borrower has met all of the conditions precedent, and that all of the parties have submitted everything in order to move the deal to a point where money can be lent.” What's the best thing about this practice?“I enjoy my work because I get to see something that’s good for society being built. It’s nice to be able to help facilitate that infrastructure growth.”
“I've represented investors from Australia, South Africa and Canada.”
The firm's commercial litigation practice covers many specialties, including antitrust, insurance litigation, healthcare disputes, trade secrets and class action defenses. Some of our sources had got involved in the team's data protection and cybersecurity work, which is “a great area to practice in, as you gain expertise quickly; you're dealing with the same laws and regulations on a daily basis, and you have to be responsive – it's the kind of area where if a client calls because there's been a data breach you have to get on the phone with them immediately.” Clients across the team vary from “proprietors to the biggest multinational organizations to our core oil and gas clients.”
“When I was in law school I thought that if you went to a big firm you’d be doing grunt work for years but that’s not the case,” one finance source told us. “I get meaningful work and see it contribute to the final product.” In fact, juniors we spoke to across the firm’s teams said that they’d experienced high levels of client contact – even in commercial litigation, where client interaction is usually harder to come by. Dealing with international clients and lawyers across NRF's global network is also a common experience, with interviewees in small transactional teams telling us that they'd “represented investors from Australia, South Africa and Canada and built good relationships with the international offices. Part of the appeal of working here is having that coverage all over the globe.”
Culture & Offices
Of NRF's 11 US offices, only two – San Francisco and Minneapolis – had no second or third-year juniors at the time of our calls. The firm's Houston and New York offices tied when it came to taking on the largest segment of juniors, but DC and Dallas also took on a fair number. A few were working out of Austin, Denver, LA, San Antonio and St. Louis. “We're seen as the home office for the US,” those in Houston proudly told us. “We're spread out over seven floors, and the offices are nice and new – there's been a significant investment in making the space more modern, and they've paid attention to design so there are quite a few open breakout areas where people can collaborate.” New Yorkers also had “no complaints” when it came to their Midtown lodgings, which were perfectly pre-aligned for the merger between NRF and Chadbourne: both firms were already based in the same building, one on top of the other.
“...having genuinely nice people around makes all the difference.”
That surely bodes well for cohesion, but on a broader level did juniors feel that there was enough intermingling between locations and practices? “The firm does push a one-firm culture – particularly since the Chadbourne combination – and there is an emphasis on working seamlessly across offices,” sources replied. Many did feel that they were very much part of a global firm, and echoed this junior in one of the smaller offices, who explained that they were “on the phone with international offices daily – I definitely feel part of the bigger picture!” On the whole, “there are many programs and webinars that share information about the overall firm and support its 'one firm' methodology.” Interviewees also felt that NRF's strategy helped to foster cohesion “as we're focusing on development by industry rather than practice, so we're bringing in people from different practice areas to concentrate on our six core industries.”
Beyond work, NRF runs a global charity initiative: “The entire firm participates to raise money for a certain cause – this year it's the Nelson Mandela Foundation. We also participate in the MS 150, which is a charity bike ride between Austin and Houston; people from across the firm globally come to take part, and lawyers' families here in Texas host people.” That does make NRF lawyers sound like a very decent bunch of people, and our sources were quick to emphasize this: “Generally our culture is shaped by the fact that we have really good people here – people who aren't jerks! It sounds simple but it makes coming to work so much better; we can have tough days and work late nights, so having genuinely nice people around makes all the difference.”
Training & Development
When associates first join, they attend a three-day orientation program in one of the larger offices, “which covers training, but is also good for getting to know the other attorneys starting in your class.” Upon returning to their home offices, formal training continues via 'academy' programs tailored to litigators and transactional associates: “We'll go through negotiation tactics, for example, as well as the business components of transactions.” Sources found these sessions “most beneficial” but just wanted them “to last a little longer!” Still, after the academies are completed, “you can do CLEs at the firm's expense, so you can continue to develop your practice.” Our third-year insiders were also looking forward to attending one of NRF's 'international academies,' which bring together associates from across the firm at various points throughout their careers to attend sessions on the likes of networking, business development and leadership skills.
“It's a transitional time,” said juniors when commenting on feedback. A new “level system” has been introduced, which will “make formal feedback more extensive – they spent a lot of time earlier in the year explaining the experiences that are tied to each of the levels, but we're still not sure how everything will be factored in yet.”
Several interviewees mentioned NRF’s 2020 vision, which aims to create a 30% female partnership by – you guessed it – 2020. “I’ve seen female representation improving at the management level and I’ve been impressed with what the firm’s done so far. There's been a significant effort to invest in mentor/champion relationships as women progress into their sixth year and beyond,” one source commented.
“...always working on new initiatives.”
One Houston-based interviewee added: “I'm diverse, and I feel very fortunate to look around and see that I'm on a par with other people.” Juniors also credited the firm's diversity director, “who's always working on new initiatives,” likeunconscious bias training, for example, “which is a great step forward, as generally it's not something people like talking about, and it forces you to look at yourself and your behavioral patterns.” Praise was bestowed on NRF's support of its affinity groups as well: “The firm has a budget for all of them, so we can get together on a quarterly basis and discuss what we see and what we would like to change.”
Hours & Compensation
At the time of our calls sources across the US faced a 2,000-hour billing target to qualify for a bonus; up to 100 hours could consist of a mix of pro bono and other approved non-billable work.Juniors found this target "not easy, but achievable if your group is busy." However, they also mentioned that the system was about to change: those in New York and DC will be aiming to hit 1,800 client-chargeable hours in order to be considered for a bonus (they will also be able to count up to 300 hours of credited non-chargeable hours toward bonus considerations); elsewhere, juniors will be shooting for 1,900 client-chargeable hours, and will be allowed to submit up to 100 credited non-chargeable hours to inform the bonus that they get. Credited non-chargeable work covers pro bono, as well as participation in the likes of diversity and inclusion, recruitment, mentoring and practice development activities. Check in with us next year to discover what juniors make of this new system. For now, “people feel that they are fairly compensated and that the work-life balance here is reasonable; there are other firms that pay more and offer bigger bonuses, but they also expect a lot more from you.”
“At the top level we have a pro bono committee, but each office also has a pro bono coordinator who organizes associates' participation,” juniors explained. In Texas, juniors had picked up matters through the Houston Volunteer Lawyers service, and came to the aid of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey: “We put in place this phone bank service called Legal Lines, which enabled our lawyers to give quick advice to people on things like housing issues.”
Elsewhere, insiders had worked on death penalty appeals, asylum cases, and name change matters for transgender clients – “they're really great to do, and they're discrete so can be accommodated into your schedule easily.” Interviewees were also “pleasantly surprised” by the number of more corporate-oriented opportunities available, with some highlighting their experience drafting contracts for theater groups.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
We asked associates who had been involved in recruiting what they looked for in candidates. One told us: “Norton Rose is keen on giving juniors client-facing opportunities. I think any partner here would say that they would love to hire someone that they would be happy to put in front of their client.” Others added that a certain amount of independence was desirable: “I think it’s important to find people who will take ownership of matters and make things their own. We want people who understand there is a support system but don’t rely on it too much.” As always, research is key: “I conducted a lot of interviews this summer and the people that really stood out were the ones who had really done their research.” They continued: “I barely looked at people’s grades because we’re not that kind of firm. The people I liked had done their research and really cared about being here.”
When it comes to the application process we heard: “Never underestimate the hobby section. You can do a lot with it and people look at it a lot more than you would think.” Others told us: “Interviews can be stressful, but if you’ve got that far there must be something they like about you, so try to relax.” Finally, regardless of the firm, juniors advised students to “always think about who you would want to spend time with in a tough moment or on a stressful day. When push comes to shove think about who you want around you and the type of environment you’ll learn in.”
Interview with US managing partner Daryl Lansdale
Chambers Associate:Have there been any key developments or work highlights in the last twelve months that our readers should know about?
Daryl Lansdale: We’ve had a lot going on over the last year. The biggest development here was the combination with Chadbourne & Parke in June, which expanded the New York and DC offices significantly. We’re now one of the top 25 firms in New York City by number of lawyers – 300 in total, which we’re very proud of. Our US headcount has now increased to 1,000 lawyers, while we're at 4,000 globally. It was a very strategic and important combination. We’re now a global leader in project finance because of the merger, and our bankruptcy, white-collar and investigations practices have also expanded. We’ve also added new offices in Mexico City and São Paulo. We think Latin America presents a huge opportunity for our firm, and I believe we will grow significantly in that jurisdiction.
In 2017, we also merged with Bull Housser in Vancouver, which again had a significant projects practice, and also finalized our merger with Henry Davis York in Australia. It’s been a big year, and we remain the largest firm in the state of Texas, which continues to be a very important jurisdiction for the firm.
CA:Where do you see the firm in five years' time?
DL: Our lawyers will continue to sell themselves not only as experts in law but in our clients’ specific industries. In keeping with that approach, over the last two years, we’ve added an office in San Francisco and expanded significantly in Latin America, with our energy practice in mind.
CA:How have you encouraged cohesion since the merger with Chadbourne & Parke?
DL: Culture was the number one focus for both of our firms. In driving the combination, we continued to make sure that we could really meld the cultures together, which we felt were already compatible. It’s been very seamless, and everybody has been collaborating across legacy groups and client bases.
CA:How would you describe the ideal Norton Rose Fulbright lawyer?
DL: Most importantly we are collaborative and collegial; those are critical hallmarks for us. We also want lawyers with a global mindset because we’re a global business with international and domestic needs. We want people to be innovative and seek people who are able to adapt to the changing legal environment. Another thing we look for are individuals who embrace diverse views. Diversity is another hallmark of our business and makes us better equipped to succeed.
CA:What does Norton Rose Fulbright offer associates that is unique?
DL: Definitely the culture. We truly have a collaborative and collegial environment, and that’s universal across the globe. It creates a nurturing system in which associates are brought up through and given the opportunity to become partners. We have a lot of mentorship programs to help them succeed in a team-oriented environment. We don’t want to alienate young lawyers as they move through their careers – we want them to succeed as part of a team.
Interview with Doug Wabner, hiring partner at Norton Rose Fulbright
Chambers Associate:Have there been any changes to your recruiting program in the last year, particularly since the Chadbourne merger?
Doug Wabner: We’re very excited on a lot of different levels. Thanks to a lot of hard work with our recruiters in New York and DC, we were able to combine our programs in 2017. Even before the merger was solidified we were able to run a summer associate program and indoctrinate the folks from both legacies into the new system. The group was significantly larger in 2017 than it was in 2016, and we recorded a 98% offer rate as well. Everybody in the offices where the firms overlapped received offers, and because of this exciting and productive time we plan to increase summer associate hiring by another 30% or so next summer.
Another thing we introduced this year was the Norton Rose Fulbright Summer Associate Academy, which brought summer associates from across the US offices to one location. It allowed everyone to get to know each other, and leaders from across the firm came to give talks and presentations. We also showed folks in New York and DC what good Tex Mex was! We got a lot of great feedback; it’s a great way to introduce everybody, so they can build friendships and understand all the resources at their disposal when they start.
CA: Can you tell us more about the features of your summer program?
DW: Now that we’ve got more than 1,000 lawyers in the US, we’ve made a concerted effort to interview potential summer associates and find out what type of law they’re interested in so we can be sure and give them experience in those areas. We’ve made sure they also get plenty of experience with people in other offices and integrate into the firm as a whole. We don’t make up work in our summer programs; we staff summer associates on real projects instead of just looking in the brief bank for memos that need doing. We also have 'out of office' coordinators to try and make sure students get out of the office once a week to attend meetings, hearings and trials. We know that students are in demand and we’re trying to keep them and give them a real idea of what it’s like to practice here. While we do occasionally hire some lateral associates, we primarily grow our firm through our summer program. By giving them a 'real world' experience during the summer, our associates are able to show up on their first day of work and feel comfortable.
CA:What is the firm doing to encourage diversity? We’ve heard about the 2020 initiative and unconscious bias training – can you tell us a bit more about this?
DW: We have a global target to reach a 30% female partnership by 2020. Thirty three percent of management positions are currently filled by women, and in 2017, 42% of our new partners in were diverse, including women. Our 'Careers Strategy Program' launched in 2015, and was designed by women to address various issues that female lawyers might face. The program provides support and counseling opportunities to help women through challenges; it also allows managers to see the important role they need to play in pushing women forward for leadership positions.
We previously had unconscious bias training for management, but now we’ve rolled it out to include all partners and non-partners. We want to make sure everybody has the same chance to succeed when they’re here. We also have a Minority Lawyers’ Network with over 100 folks, as well as a Pride network. We want everybody to feel comfortable and part of the firm, and ultimately become partners and leaders. Minorities formed 50% of our 2017 summer class, and the 98% offer rate indicates that our 2019 class will be close to 50% diverse too.
CA: What sets Norton Rose Fulbright apart from other firms in terms of what it can offer associates?
DW: I think some firms hire summers with the idea that five or seven years down the line they’ll lose a good chunk of them. However, we hire with the hope that people will start here and stay here. We genuinely care about the people at our firm, whether they’re a first year, a senior associate or a partner. We do our best to find out how busy our junior associates are and whether they’re getting good guidance. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but we want to provide leadership opportunities, mentoring and guidance so that people get what they hoped for and don’t regret going to law school.
CA:How would you describe the ideal Norton Rose Fulbright lawyer?
DW: We look for people who have been successful in undergrad and in law school. Grades are important but grades aren’t everything. We’re looking for people with an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to become a leader while still working well as part of a team. We work on a lot of big and complex matters that require people to work well with each other in teams. We also want people to be confident when it comes to sharing ideas; I can’t tell you how many times an associate has come up with something that has made me say ‘I’m so glad you thought of that.’ We also want to hire folks who want to get involved in pro bono, charity and civil work. We plan on giving people a lot of client contact and so we want to recruit lawyers who the clients are going to like, trust and grow relationships with.
Norton Rose Fulbright
- Head Office: N/A
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 47
- Worldwide revenue: $1.958 billion
- Partners (US): 309
- Associates (US): 325
- Main recruitment contact: Jaimee Slovak (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Doug Wabner
- Diversity officer: Lisa Genecov
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 38
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 83
- 1Ls: 14; 2Ls: 69
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Austin: 10, Dallas: 12, Houston: 26, Los Angeles: 2, Minneapolis: 1, New York: 24, St. Louis: 1, Washington: 7
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,500/wk (CA, DC, NY, TX)
- 2Ls: $3,500/wk (CA, DC, NY, TX)
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Recognized for its industry focus, Norton Rose Fulbright is strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare. Through its global risk advisory group, Norton Rose Fulbright leverages its industry experience with its knowledge of legal, regulatory, compliance and governance issues to provide clients with practical solutions to the legal and regulatory risks facing their businesses.
Baylor, Cardozo, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Hofstra, Howard, Loyola (CA), NYU, Penn, South Texas College of Law, SMU, Texas Southern, Texas Tech, UC-Irvine, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Southern California, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Washington University, Yale Recruitment outside OCIs: Cornell (DC and NY job fairs), Emory Job Fair, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Law, National Law School Consortium, NEBLSA Job fair, Notre Dame Interview Program, Penn Regional Job Fairs, SEMJF, Sunbelt, Vanderbilt Career Fairs, Washington University Walkaround Programs.
Summer associate profile:
We recruit motivated, energetic and personable individuals with whom we will enjoy practicing law. Candidates should have high academic achievement, maturity, and initiative. We also value other indicators of likely success at Norton Rose Fulbright, such as demonstrated leadership skills and an entrepreneurial outlook.
Summer program components:
Your summer experience will provide you with a realistic preview of what it is like to practice at Norton Rose Fulbright. You will do real work for real clients. We offer sophisticated work, world-class learning and development and our lawyers are committed to teaching and mentoring. Our US Summer Associates are invited to participate in the Summer Associate Academy, a two day induction into the firm.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
District of Columbia
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 5)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities Spotlight Table
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 2)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- International Arbitration (Band 4)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 4)
- Projects: LNG (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Projects: Power (Band 2)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 3)